Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 594–604 | Cite as

The Attribution of Hostile Intent in Mothers, Fathers and Their Children

  • Sarah L. Halligan
  • Peter J. Cooper
  • Sarah J. Healy
  • Lynne Murray
Original Paper


Child externalising symptoms are associated with a bias towards attributing hostile intent to others. We examined the role of parental attributions in the development of this hostile attribution bias in children. The parents of 134 children aged 5–7 years responded to hypothetical social scenarios examining a) their general tendency to attribute hostile intent to the ambiguous behaviour of others, and b) hostile attributions made specifically to their child. Children's own attributions of hostile intent and levels of externalising symptomatology were assessed. The results indicated that child externalising symptoms were positively associated with both a generalised tendency towards the attribution of hostile intent and child-specific hostile attributions in parents. Child externalising symptoms were themselves associated with hostile attributions made by the child. However, no direct associations were observed between parental and child attributions of hostile intent. Thus, although the results suggest a role for parental social information processing biases in the development of child externalising symptoms, a direct transmission of such biases from parent to child was not supported.


Mothers Fathers Hostile attribution bias Aggression Behavioural disorder Externalising symptoms 



We thank Monica Beacroft, Caroline Dunning, Priscillia Gracias-Tsang, and Rosemary Scarborough for their contribution to developing the current study and their work collecting data.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah L. Halligan
    • 1
  • Peter J. Cooper
    • 1
  • Sarah J. Healy
    • 1
  • Lynne Murray
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychology and Clinical Language SciencesUniversity of ReadingWhiteknightsUK

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